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05.01.2022 By Lisa Warshaw, Senior Vice President of Healthcare Media Relations

Cross-Cultural Considerations in Healthcare Communications

Group of 5 young people in a line wearing face mask - they are a diverse group showing multi ethnic heritage.

COVID has thrown the world into a global pandemic of epic proportions, disrupting daily lives, sparking debate, and consuming news cycles. In the process, we’ve all become healthcare media connoisseurs as we’ve grappled with how to navigate the pandemic’s constantly evolving nature, viewing it and its lingering effects through our personal perspectives.

Still, we might not consider how our values, attitudes, and beliefs affect communication around health and illness, which are deeply personal and private, making it a sensitive topic to communicate.

Each culture approaches health and wellness differently, so it is important to consider culture, diversity, and ethnicity when crafting cross-cultural communications campaigns that will resonate with a diverse audience. One size fits most is not the solution.

Take for instance a comparison of Eastern and Western approaches to medicine and overarching attitudes toward health. Some Western cultures tend to focus on diagnosing and treating a disease or illness based on a patient’s symptoms. So, if you’re sick, targeted medicines are often the first sought-after approach to treat the issue. While some Eastern cultures however tend to consider both a patient’s symptoms and an individualized diagnosis of a patients Qi (or chi). So, as some cultures rely more on drug-based therapies, others may tend to rely heavier on balancing energy, physical exercise (ex. qi gong and tai chi) and leveraging natural, herbal remedies.

Another way to look at this isn’t treatment based, but rather attitudinal. For example, some people in Western cultures fight illness until the end, leveraging every treatment available to prolong life. While some in Eastern cultures may not even see a doctor or get treated for fear of overburdening family if they are diagnosed with a serious condition.

When we work with healthcare clients, we lay a foundation focused on cross-cultural concepts, because communication isn’t universal. As we embark on another year of pandemic conditions, here are some of the ways we ensure inclusive healthcare communications:

  • Become Aware: Develop cultural competence by first identifying your own beliefs and recognizing your culture’s relevancy in your thought process and attitudes. This forms the foundation of cross-cultural awareness, making us more open to unfamiliar attitudes, practices, or behaviors.
  • Be Open-Minded: Acknowledge that a difference exists. For example, some cultures encourage the expression of illness, while others discourage it. As noted above, most cultures view health in two differing groups: Western Medicine (based on biomedical science) or Eastern Medicine (based on the biopsychosocial model). How we approach health affects how we talk and feel about it.
  • Facilitate Meaningful Conversation: Create a safe space to embrace diversity and accommodations for cultural differences.
  • Keep It Simple: Use clear, concise, and compelling narratives that honor diversity and celebrate differences.

Health is a cultural concept because culture frames and shapes how we perceive the world and our experiences. Therefore, different cultures bring different perspectives to health. So, as year two of the global pandemic ends and the Omicron variant races across geographic borders, consider how culture plays a role in health-centric conversations.

Wishing you and yours continuous good health in the new year.

Lisa Warshaw is Senior Vice President of Healthcare Media Relations at Current Global. Having lived, worked, and traveled to more than 30 countries, Lisa weaves a cross-cultural perspective into creating impactful, omni-channel, strategic communications campaigns across healthcare and science industries.

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